FORT MYERS, Fla. – Before Joseph Walsh was arrested and charged in connection with the death of his infant son, the state Department of Children and Families was well aware of his violent history, having taken multiple children from a previous marriage away from him, a WINK News investigation revealed.
Walsh, 36, and Kristen Bury, 32, are each charged in connection with the death of Chance Walsh, their nine-week-old baby whose remains were found Oct. 15 in a heavily wooded area about 13 miles from their North Port home. Walsh is charged with second-degree murder; Bury faces a homicide negligent manslaughter charge.
Chance, whose funeral was on Sunday, was last seen by relatives on Sept. 9. The couple’s inconsistent versions of what happened to Chance during a vehicle wreck in South Carolina eventually led authorities to the baby’s body.
Walsh’s criminal history started as a teenager when he escaped from a juvenile facility in Okeechobee. By his mid-20s, Walsh was raising seven children with his first wife and becoming well known to law enforcement:
- He was charged with aggravated assault and battery in 2002. The charges were later dropped.
- He was charged with attempting to strangle his wife’s friend in 2004. Those charges were also dropped.
- Walsh became a felon in 2006 after pleading guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Walsh was on drugs when he jumped onto a kitchen counter top, lunged at his mother-in-law and attacked her with a kitchen knife, according to court documents.
- In 2007, Walsh was charged with assaulting his wife. Those charges were dropped.
In total, Walsh faced 11 charges, including threatening to put his wife in a body bag on three different occasions, according to court records. Nine of those charges were dropped.
Domestic abusers often have their charges dropped because the victim doesn’t show up for court, said Dr. Laura Streyffeler, a Fort Myers therapist who testifies in domestic violence cases.
“They’re afraid of being punished by their partner for going to court and what they would say, putting him or her in jail,” she said.
In a letter to court officials, Walsh’s first wife said she was afraid for her life.
“I am worried that he will just snap one day and hurt me really bad or possibly even kill me,” she wrote.
In domestic violence stories, WINK News often does not name the victim for their safety. For this reason, WINK News has chosen not to name the woman or her mother.
The woman also claimed Walsh told her that “I will beat you so bad I probably won’t get out of jail,” according to court documents.
In a separate letter, the woman’s mother wrote that Walsh beat two of his children, ages 9 and 10, “black and blue” in 2004.
State officials eventually took the children away from the couple.
Chris Kalas, a friend of Walsh’s, described his first marriage as one “fueled by drugs and alcohol.”
“He was a bad father,” he said. “His love became drugs and alcohol and not his family any longer.”
Kalas met Walsh in 2013. Walsh was ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Kalas was his sponsor.
Kalas eventually gave Walsh a job washing and moving cars at a car dealership.
“He was a model employee,” he said. “He never missed work. He was always there. Very polite. He was the type of person that I would not be afraid to have around my family.”
Kalas said that changed when Walsh met Burry.
“I just wish he would have never met Kristen,” he said.
About three weeks after Chance was born, DCF officials received a tip that Bury was using drugs. The department said there wasn’t enough evidence for an investigation because the caller didn’t have first hand knowledge of the drug abuse.
Six weeks later, Chance was beaten to death, authorities said.
“We failed,” DCF Director Mike Carroll said.